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5 Amazing, Irreplaceable, Discontinued Pieces of Hardware

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By Nelson Schneider - 02/13/22 at 04:47 PM CT

Hardware comes and hardware goes, usually with a new-and-improved version replacing older tech as it’s phased-out and discontinued. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and with increasing frequency, incredible, novel pieces of hardware are quietly discontinued, vanishing off store shelves and out of Amazon warehouses, with no apparent successor intended to replace them. Here’s a short list of the most traumatizing discontinuations that have affected me, personally.

5. Gyration Airmouse
The Gyration Airmouse isn’t officially “discontinued,” however, the company that invented it – Gyration – has been bought-out by another company – Adesso – which seems more interested in security cameras than wireless, gyroscopic computer mice. The Gyration Airmouse is now “legacy” hardware, which means it’s not getting any R&D money dumped on it, and there won’t be any newer, better versions. As far as I’m concerned, this is THE best way to interact with an HTPC or AndroidTV box from the couch, since it offers speed and precision, without the need for a flat surface upon which to scoot it around.

4. Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse
After Apple introduced the “Magic Mouse,” Microsoft followed suit and released the Explorer Touch Mouse into an environment where it competed against Logitech’s similar non-Mac products. The difference between a Touch Mouse and a Regular Mouse is similar to the difference between a modern Optical Mouse and a ‘90s era Rollerball Mouse: Instead of a mechanical wheel for scrolling, there’s a touch-sensitive haptic pad that allows for some great features from mobile OSes – such as momentum-driven scrolling – to work in a traditional desktop environment. When my Explorer Mouse gave up the ghost after more than a decade of daily use, I went to order a replacement, only to learn that Microsoft has discontinued it and replaced it with the Arc Touch Mouse. Sadly, the Arc Mouse is a huge pile of misbegotten engineering fails: You have to “bend” it to turn it on and off, the hollow arch that gives it its name leaves very few places to rest extra fingers while using it, and – the cardinal sin – the center touchpad isn’t a clickable button anymore, making middle-clicks and smooth scrolling a hit-or-miss proposition. After forcing myself to cope with the Arc Touch Mouse for a month, I shelved it and ordered a refurbished Explorer Touch Mouse. Microsoft really needs to dedicate some resources to their hardware peripherals division instead of blowing it all on Xbox.

3. Nintendo Wavebird
Oh, we’re finally getting to dedicated gaming devices, now? Yeah! The absolute best controller Nintendo ever made came after their biggest mistake: As a follow-up to the abysmal N64 controller, the Gamecube controller featured an unorthodox face button layout that both worked perfectly AND helped multi-platform gamers cope with switching controllers, since no one was going to confuse the position of the “A” button on a Gamecube controller with the location of a similarly-labeled button on a Dreamcast or Xbox. Making the Gamecube controller wireless just took excellence to all-new heights, and the Gamecube input panel on the original Wii allowed the Wavebird to rule gaming input devices for a long, long time. Unfortunately, Nintendo didn’t re-issue Wavebirds when they re-issued Gamecube controllers for ‘Smash Bros.’ players on the Switch. Desperate gamers can still acquire these great controllers refurbished, but getting them to work on a relevant modern platform still requires a dongle (which will no doubt be discontinued soon too).

2. Steam Controller
Darn it, Lord GabeN! What were you thinking?! First, Valve creates an absolutely amazing device for controlling old PC games with poorly-designed UIs and interfaces (due to pandering to the default typewriter that comes with the PC platform, and not bothering to put in the extra effort to support d-input), then they discontinue it after only a few years. Sure, there’s new-and-improved Steam Controller tech baked into the brand new Steam Deck handheld, but since they’re actually ‘baked in’ and not detachable like the Switch’s JoyCons, you aren’t going to be using the new Steam Controller to play games unless you’re playing them on a Steam Deck. I’m still waiting for a stand-alone version of the new Steam Controller to be announced once the hubbub around the Deck’s launch subsides.

1. Razer Hydra
I spent years following the successor to the Razer Hydra – codenamed STEM – which was to be manufactured by Sixense Entertainment. The Hydra was a fantastic motion controller that – unlike all the competing products – didn’t use light tracking or gyroscopics, but used magnetic field tracking for insanely precise pointer-based aiming and gesture controls that only had minor interference issues during electrical storms. Even more importantly, the Hydra and STEM were the only two VR-caliber motion controllers that could be used outside of a VR environment. Alas, corporate mismanagement and moneyhatting saw Sixense take a dive and refund all of the pre-orders for the STEM. Even more recently, the company sold itself to another company called InfinityLeap, which looks like it might be more interested in doing consumer-grade VR and AR instead of Sixense’s proposed market of healthcare training. Is there hope we might finally see the STEM someday? Yeah, but it’s damned faint!

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